Queer performance artist extraordinaire Jonny Woo has created a lecture on the evolvement of East London with a brilliant twist; it’s not a lecture.
By Patrick Cash
It’s a one-man verbatim play that showcases the astounding versatility of Woo’s performance skills, as he brings the myriad characters from The Bricklayers Arms to life using only his own embodiment and, occasionally, a pair of scarlet stilettos.
At its heart, this piece was about how Shoreditch, Dalston et al became the meccas for creatives, hipsters and gays that they are today. Mr Woo interviewed various people in his odyssey into contemparary East London’s beginnings, including locals born in the area and the initial merry band of disparate firestarters who begun throwing parties in the Bricklayers.
Clever lighting and an inventive set took us sailing on the journey with Jonny through the last twenty years of East London life. Yes, they addressed the controversial word of ‘gentrification’ but not by buying into The Guardian narrative that everything gets worse for incumbents when new people move in to an area. In fact, according to many of the local voices in Jonny’s anecdotal sculpting, the vibrancy of the areas now have returned the streets to their former appeal and, in many ways, made it more of a home.
The story is intriguing and excellently crafted, but what really glues the core of this production together is Woo’s pure charisma. From Fee the DJ who plays all the hits everyone wants to hear, to old man Jimmy reminiscing about all the East End pubs down the ages, to the irrepressible laugh of Bricklayers landlady Vicky, you walk out of the auditorium marvelling that you’ve just seen one man invoking these living figures upon the stage.
It’s often very funny, the songs are fabulous, and ultimately it’s a celebration of an area that Woo clearly loves. With the current initiative to ‘Save the Joiners Arms’ showing what community action can achieve, and how many diverse people and figures can be incorporated into that whirlwind, it’s beautiful to have a paean to East London that sings its song with truth.
The Rose Lipman Building, 43 De Beauvoir Road, N1 5SQ
Thursday 4th – Sunday 6th December, £10 (£8 concs).